After 13 years of intensive conflict, Afganistans today took to the polls in a presidential election, which will mark the first democratic transfer of power since the country was tipped into chaos by the fall of the hardline Islamist Taliban regime.

The voting has however not been a smooth sail asTaliban insurgents launched a spate of attacks that killed dozens in the run-up to the poll, which they brand a US-backed sham.

Reuters report that four voters were wounded in an explosion at a polling station in the south-eastern province of Logar, a few hours after voting began. The blast took place close to a polling station, which is a school building, and wounded four voters, one critically.

The attack comes a day after a veteran Associated Press photographer was killed and a senior correspondent of the same news agency was wounded when a policeman opened fire on the two women in eastern Afghanistan as they reported on preparations for the poll.

About 12 million Afghans are eligible to vote and there are eight candidates, with former foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmay Rassoul and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani the favourites.

Hamid Karzai, the incumbent, is not allowed to run for the presidency again by the constitution.But, after 12 years in power, Mr Karzai is widely expected to retain influence through politicians loyal to him. More than 350,000 Afghan troops have been put on duty to thwart attacks on polling stations and voters.

The capital, Kabul, has been sealed off from the rest of the country by rings of roadblocks and checkpoints.

The Taliban have warned civilians they would be targeted if they try to vote. At least 10 per cent of polling stations are expected to be shut due to security threats.

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